Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Catalog Family

When we were spic-and-span clean and ready for church, our grandma Opal liked to remark, "Why, you look like you've just stepped out of a band box." I'd puff with pride, even though I didn't have the foggiest notion of what a band box was.

These days, when I see a well groomed, coordinated family, I like to remark to myself, "Why, they look like they've just stepped out of the same catalog," whether it's The Gap, JC Penney's or Neiman Marcus.

We are not that family. We are the poster family for mix-it-up diversity. We don't worship at the same churches, dress from the same catalogs or order the same thing in restaurants. And, most of the time, it works for us.

George is a blue-eyed, English-Irish Mayflower descendant. I'm a Hapa, with my mother contributing the kimono-wearing Japanese half and my dad the kilt-clad Scottish side. Cindy is a raven-haired beauty with family roots in Jalisco, Mexico. When it comes to religion, I like to call us the "ABC family" with an agnostic, a Baptist-Buddhist and a Catholic under the same roof. No problem.

As for catalogs, I gravitate towards the classics in J Crew or Banana Republic and throw in a touch of vintage for panache. George (and I hate to admit this) is partial to JC Penney's with no added panache. And it's impossible to confine Cindy's sense of style to a single catalog. Suffice it to say that she would not be caught dead in either Banana or JC Penney's. Again, not a problem.

But what's a family to do when the taste buds swing farther apart than the catalogs?

Let's start with a simple family pasta dinner. I like my pasta cooked al dente, but 18-year-old Cindy and George prefer their noodles wiggly. Cindy, who still has the taste preferences of a pre-schooler ordering from a kid's menu, loves penne pasta with butter and Parmesan cheese. At least she shuns the sawdust in the green can in favor of the freshly grated variety. Of course, sugar-laden Spaghetti O's are still a fave. (Although, now that I'm home from Hotel Hope, I've banned their presence in our pantry.)

George's favorite dinner is spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and bread. Sounds simple enough, but we're palate opposites in every category. He likes my doctored-up version of sauce in a jar with ground meat, fresh herbs, crushed red pepper and wine. I'm in heaven with fresh tomatoes from the garden with plenty of fresh-picked basil cooked up in lots of garlic and olive oil.

For George, salad is based on the "polyester of lettuces," Iceberg. Throw in a few tomatoes (even when they're anemic and out-of-season) and a chopped carrot, top it with bottled Thousand Island dressing and he chows down. The bread should be soft on the outside and soft on the inside. (All of this, of course, is even more upsetting to me than shopping trips to JC Penney's.)

So what's a mom/head cook to do? Take the hard line, "If you want it YOUR way, then cook it your way" tack? Go for the least common denominator and serve up something acceptable to everyone? Bite the soggy bullet and settle for water-logged instead of al dente pasta? Keep trying to introduce my family to the virtues of designer lettuces, home-made balsamic dressings and crusty breads? Sigh.

I'll bet the family in the JC Penney's catalog doesn't have these problems.

COMMENTS: When it comes to food, are you a catalog family? What challenges does your family face?


Barbara Fleeman said...

My family's food tastes are all over the map. Mike and I are both Food Network addicts and we like to experiment with fresh herbs, ethnic ingredients, etc. But often we crave simple comfort foods -- lasagna, fried chicken, cheeseburgers. Our food conflicts lie in molecular structure: he likes to eat low-carb and I try to eat low-fat. My daughter's preferences are similar to Cindy's, only she likes her pasta with butter only -- hold the cheese, please. My teenage son, despite his slender physique, eats constantly.

So I cook whatever sounds good that day, and try to rotate in everyone's favorites. My kids know that if they don't want what's on the menu, they are free to make a sandwich or eat leftovers. In our house, it's called "scrounging your own dinner."

By the way, I didn't know George was a Mayflower descendant. Mike is a Bradford -- perhaps they are kin? Wonder if they'd let our Hapa kids in the Mayflower Society?

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